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The following sermon was preached at St. Matthew’s Anglican Church in the Riverdale neighbourhood of Toronto on Passion Sunday (or, Palm Sunday), March 24, 2013.

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A Sermon for Passion Sunday (March 24, 2013)

Luke 22.14-23.56

 

“When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him,” (Luke 22.14).

 

Living God,

Open my mouth, that I may proclaim your Word

Open our eyes and ears, that we may see and hear you

Open our hearts and minds, that we may joyfully receive you.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

 

There is a sense in which the most important Sunday to be in church is Palm Sunday, because no other Sunday places us so squarely in the middle of the action (Rutledge). Palm Sunday, or Passion Sunday, is quite a Sunday indeed. As you witnessed for yourselves, we began with the “Liturgy of the Palms”: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” As we remember the day our Lord Jesus Christ entered the holy city of Jerusalem in humble triumph we are caught up in the excitement of the crowds, “Hosanna in the highest!” Then we all joined in the processional around the church, waving our palm leaves, “Hosanna in the highest!” It’s all quite exciting. Thus, we begin Holy Week. However, no sooner has all of this happened then we are walloped over the side of the head with an incredibly long and grueling gospel reading in which we take in the whole sweep of Luke’s account of the Passion. I must ask, how did it feel? How did it feel to one moment shout praise to God and the next to shout, “Away with this fellow! Release Barabbas for us!”? “Crucify, crucify him!” The crowds welcoming Jesus as king on Sunday (that’s us), were calling for his death on Friday. The wonderful preacher Flemming Rutledge put it nicely: “The liturgy of Palm Sunday is set up to show you how you can say one thing one minute and its opposite the next.”

Is this not a fair description of the Christian life? What I mean is, we are aware of all of the ways in which our lives are inconsistent with the faith we profess in Christ, right? One of my favourite comics, Louis CK (who, by the way, I would not watch with my grandmother nor, for that reason, would I endorse to you), has a great bit in one of his more recent shows which I will recite for you now, probably doing a terrible job: “I have a lot of beliefs…and I live by none of them. That’s just the way I am. They’re just my beliefs. I just like believing them – I like that part. They’re my little believies. They make me feel good about who I am. But if they get in the way of a thing I want, I [expletive] do that,” (from At the Beacon Theater). That was the clean version. The point, with a bit of theological interpretation, is simply that we’re a mess of contradictions due to the fact that we are sinful creatures.

Lent brought that into focus for me very quickly this year. As you well know, Christians will often fast from any number of things during Lent, as a way of reflecting on our dependence upon Christ and so on. This year I decided to fast from booze – I was unsuccessful. I couldn’t do it! My spirit was willing but my flesh was weak. Perhaps you can identify with this yourself. There is a quote that is often attributed to Ghandi, though this is somewhat disputed. You may have heard it: “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Now, in my experience this is typically employed by Christians in order to say something like, “Hey, we need to get our act together and start living better!” My reaction to the quote, however, has always been something more along the lines of, “Yeah, exactly.” We are so unlike Christ, aren’t we?

What I want to suggest to you this morning is that none of this, our life of sinful contradiction, is surprising to God, in fact, it all becomes part of the salvation story that is Jesus. “When the hour came…” I’m part of one of our small groups here at St. Matthew’s (I would encourage you to get involved as well, join us on Thursday’s after Easter as we read through the Bible together in one year). We have been discussing the Cross as we’ve journeyed through Lent together and this past week we got into quite an interesting discussion about whether or not Jesus was “plan b”, so to speak. That is to say, is it the case that God created all things and did not see the Fall coming? Did our rebellion come as a surprise to Him? Did it catch Him off guard and leave Him scrambling to pick up the pieces? “I know!” says the Father, turning towards the Son: “We’ll send you down there! Go on then, sort it out.” No! None of this was a surprise. Human sinfulness was not a problem presented to God that needed solving, a problem which Jesus’ death upon the cross provided the solution for. No, the witness of Holy Scripture demands that we say this: The Creator of the universe is the Lamb who was slain. That is to say, the hour of Christ’s Passion is the hour of Creation.

“When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him.” Christ did not end up on the cross by some accident. This was the hour. The hour around which the whole world turns. The hour which is the beginning of history. The hour of the creation of the world. All of this is to say that we cannot think of God apart from Christ Jesus our Lord, crucified and risen. The witness of the apostles and the Fathers of the fourth century following them, “is simply that what we see in Christ, as proclaimed by the apostles, is what it is to be God,” [yet other than the God whom Christ calls upon as Father and makes known through, and is himself made known by, the Holy Spirit] (John Behr). That is to say, “it could not have been otherwise, nor could it now be, for this is how the God of the Christian faith is.” To claim otherwise, to claim that we could think of God apart from Christ crucified, would be to undermine the very gospel itself. Luke has already made it clear on numerous occasions, the Son of Man had to suffer (9.44; 17.25). This is the hour. The betrayal of Judas, the denial of Peter, the mock trial, the turning of the crowds on Jesus, the shouts – our shouts! – “Crucify him! Crucify him!” – all of this, all of our disobedience and faithlessness, all of our complicity in sin which brings him to the cross, our whole sordid history, all the bits we deny to ourselves and to others, all of it is taken up into the saving work of God in Christ, for this is the hour: “The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all,” (Is 53.6), “And he was counted among the lawless,” that the scriptures might be fulfilled (Lk 22.37; Is 53.12).

Of course, we only know this from the perspective of the cross. It is only when the crucified and risen Jesus is our starting point that we can see things rightly. Only from the cross can we look back on our life and see the salvation of God in Christ. All of it, every last bit, brought us to Jesus and is gathered up into his eternal life. For in the cross we see the figuration of the love of Christ in all of its breadth, length, depth, and height, the love that surpasses all knowledge, (S Irenaeus). I would encourage you to join us this Holy Week as we journey deeper into the cross that in our weakness we might come to know, ever more fully, the power and love of God as revealed in the mystery of Christ. Amen.

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This sermon was preached in the parish of St. Matthew’s Anglican Church in Riverdale, on the east side of Toronto, on the second Sunday of Lent, February 24, 2013.

The Scripture readings for the day were Genesis 15.1-12, 17-18; Psalm 27; Philippians 3.17-4.1; Luke 13.31-35.

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“He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory,” (Philippians 3.21).

Living God,

Open my mouth, that I may proclaim your Word

Open our eyes and ears, that we may see and hear you

Open our hearts and minds, that we may joyfully receive you.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

“How then can I blaspheme my King and Saviour? Bring forth what thou wilt.” These were some of the final words of Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, before his hands were bound and his body thrown on the fire in the mid-second century for refusing to burn incense to the Roman Emperor. Yesterday was his feast day which Christians have celebrated for more than 1,850 years. The faithful who witnessed his death tell us that there was no stench of burning flesh from the fire but only that of baking bread, “a sweet odour…as if frankincense or some such precious spices had been smoking there,” (The Martyrdom of Polycarp, Chapter 15). Ignatius was a friend and contemporary of Polycarp who too was martyred. As he was being taken to Rome to die he wrote a number of letters one of which pleaded: “My birth pangs are at hand. Bear with me, my brothers. Do not hinder me from living: do not wish for my death…Allow me to receive the pure light; when I arrive there I shall be a real man. Permit me to be an imitator of the Passion of my God.” “When I arrive there,” speaking of his martyrdom, “I shall be a real man”. That is to say, in death we shall be made fully human. Life in death. Is this not the mystery of Christ that we are confronted with and confounded by during Lent? As we journey with Jesus towards the Cross this Lent, as we consider the call of discipleship to pick up one’s cross and follow Jesus, to come and die along with him, may we pray along with Ignatius, “Permit me to be an imitator of the Passion of my God.”

polycarpmartyrdom

In our epistle reading from this morning the Apostle Paul exhorts the recipients of his letter to “stand firm in the Lord” (4.1) for the Lord Jesus Christ will return from heaven to rescue us and, “He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself,” (3.21). This is the ultimate destiny of human creatures, to receive glorious bodies like the risen Jesus and to love God and live in Him forever. To say that our bodies will be conformed to the body of his glory is to say that human creatures were made for immortality. Fr. John Behr, an Orthodox priest and theologian, notes that “Adam and Eve are not presented in Genesis as being immortal beings who by sin fell into mortality, but as mortal beings who had the chance of attaining immortality” but failed to do so. The Early Church Father Irenaeus used the example of human growth to illustrate this same truth. Adam and Eve were, says Irenaeus, like infants in the garden and like infants they were to grow up in maturity and stature. Grow up into immortality. That is, grow up to be partakers in the Divine life. Irenaeus looks to the Apostle Paul for this. He points, for example, to Philippians which we heard this morning, where just before our lesson Paul writes, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead,” (3.10-11). In the person of Christ Jesus, and the resurrection attests to this, the human project is complete. Humanity is finally taken up to partake in the very life of God. The mortal puts on immortality. This was always the goal for human creatures and in Christ, being fully human and fully Divine, it is fulfilled. While all of this happens in Christ’s own person, he will return and raise us up with him so that what he has done for us will be done in us and we will be transformed. We will become, finally, truly human creatures.

OK, so human creatures were made for immortality, made to be partakers in the very life of the Triune God. This is what it is to be fully human. But how does this happen for us, how is it that we put on immortality? It happens, quite paradoxically, in death as was the case for Jesus. Earlier in the letter Paul writes of Christ, “who though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross,” (2.6-8). This is the power of God made manifest in human weakness. And by his death Christ Jesus tramples down death and transforms it. This is the mystery of Christ, the mystery of life in death. We know this because Paul continues, “Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name…” and so on (2.9-11). The point is this, Christ emptied himself, he suffered and died, therefore God exalted him. The resurrection of Christ Jesus is not the victory over what is the defeat of the cross. No, the resurrection of Jesus is the proof that the suffering way of the cross is the victory, that the way of Jesus is life. And so Paul can pray as he does with such incredible longing to share in the sufferings of Jesus by becoming like him in his death (3.10). Indeed, for Paul, that we can suffer for Christ is a privilege that he graciously grants us (1.29). Can we pray this along with Paul? To be sure this is a difficult way, hence Paul’s constant exhortations to “stand firm” and “hold fast” that occur over and over again in the letter. Can we not follow Jesus without all of this talk of suffering and death? I thought being a Christian was simply about trying to be a nicer person? Can we not have Jesus but leave the cross, leave our cross, behind? No, says Paul. For those who would desire to save their lives, those who would desire to preserve their lives and store up for themselves all sorts of trinkets on this earth are “enemies of the cross of Christ…and their end is destruction…their minds are set on earthly things,” (3.18-19).

As for us, “our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” That is, the Lord Jesus Christ who humbled himself unto death on the cross. The Lord Jesus Christ of whom Paul exhorts us: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,” (2.5). That is, the same mind which does nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regards others as better than oneself. The same mind that looks not to one’s own interests, but to the interests of others (2.3-4). The same mind which led Christ Jesus to willingly lay down his life in suffering love for the world. S. John Chrysostom asks, “Was not thy Master hung upon the tree?…Crucify thyself, though no one crucify thee…If thou lovest thy Master, die His death,” (Homily XII, Philippians 3.18-21). In other words, even though no one may be crucifying you, crucify thyself. Even though you may not be dragged out into the streets and thrown upon the fire, daily throw thyself upon the fire. Chose the way of suffering, self-emptying love, and do so willingly.

None of this is, properly speaking, our own work. We do not faithfully follow the way of the Cross simply by trying really hard to do so! No, this work is accomplished in us as we open our lives up to the working of the Spirit: “for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure,” (2.13). Are we willing to open ourselves up to the Spirit in this way, knowing full well that we will be led to pour out our lives unto death? Of one thing we can be sure, that if we journey with Jesus to the Cross we will die, but we will find life there in death because God raised Jesus from the dead and his corruptible body put on incorruptibility, his mortal body put on immortality, and he will return to do the same for us.

Some of you will know that I am hoping to be ordained in the Diocese of Toronto. I have been working on my application these last few months and one of the short essay questions is something like, “What is your hope for the future of the church?” Well, I suppose my hope for the future of the church is that she would die. Now don’t worry, I didn’t write that on the application of course. But is this not the calling of the church? We are Christ’s Body, but why? To be broken for the world. That we may be poured out as a libation, to use Paul’s terminology. That we might be as a grain of wheat, ground up to become bread for the good of the world. So, this Lent as we journey with Jesus, may we take the time to remind one another just where we are headed, namely, to a lonely hill outside of Jerusalem where our Savior will die and we along with him. And may we St. Matthew’s, right here in Riverdale, may we pour out our lives in suffering love for our neighbours right here in this place so that in our dying we become like the sweet odour of baking bread, to the glory of God.

As we eagerly await the return of our Savior, who will transform our body of humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, may our prayer be that of Polycarp as he waited for the fire to be lit: “Lord God Almighty, Father of your blessed and beloved child Jesus Christ, through whom we have received knowledge of you, God of angels and hosts and all creation, and of the whole race of the upright who live in your presence: I bless you that you have thought me worthy of this day and hour, to be numbered among the martyrs and share in the cup of Christ, for resurrection to eternal life, for soul and body in the incorruptibility of the Holy Spirit. Among them may I be accepted before you today, as a rich and acceptable sacrifice, just as you, the faithful and true God, have prepared and foreshown and brought about. For this reason and for all things I praise you, I bless you, I glorify you, through the eternal heavenly high priest Jesus Christ, your beloved child, through whom be glory to you, with him and the Holy Spirit, now and for the ages to come. Amen.”

This past Sunday as I helped serve communion we stopped at a young girl as the priest gave her a gluten-free wafer (which she required). I watched as she curiously examined it and put it in her mouth. As she chewed it, she looked off into space and said with the loveliest innocence and wonder: “This tastes like something I’ve tasted before.” To which I thought, exactly!

There is a deep theological profundity in those simple words.

In the Anglican tradition during the celebration of the Eucharist the priest prays, “…we offer you, Father, this bread and this cup. Send your Holy Spirit upon us and upon these gifts, that all who eat and drink at this table may be one body and one holy people, a living sacrifice in Jesus Christ, our Lord,” (Eucharistic Prayer I).

After this prayer, in many Anglican churches (ours included), the prayer of humble access is prayed. In it we pray: “Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen.”

On the one hand, we offer up with thanksgiving and praise the bread and the wine, bits of the created order that we can touch and taste. Then, on the other hand, we ask the Holy Spirit to come upon us and these gifts so that in eating and drinking them we are eating “the flesh of they dear Son Jesus Christ” and drinking “his blood”. The result is that a community is gathered and transformed: we become “one body and one holy people, a living sacrifice”. We, “dwell in him, and he in us”.

Here, in this act we have the gospel in the form of a “visible word” (St. Augustine). The stuff of the earth, taken up with thanksgiving, transformed. It is a meal which remembers and makes present the death of Christ on the cross. It is a meal which anticipates and makes present the heavenly banquet. This is indeed a foretaste of the promise of God to see his creative work through to the end, when the whole of creation will be taken up into Christ, transformed, and made new. The result will not be alien and strange. No, it will taste like something we’ve tasted before.

I was at a gathering of church folks recently most of whom, I would guess, were more liberal in persuasion than myself. At times this was rather boring and at other times it was maddening! At one point a gentleman who was in a position of authority within this group (he was on the board or whatever) began to blabber on about a pet-peeve of his (news flash: no one asked!). He didn’t like the presumption of some Christians, who might be visiting sick and shut-in people, that they were in some fashion the presence of Christ to said sick/shut-in. At this point he let us all know of his mantra, “we are always in the presence of God” and that the task of the person ministering is to point towards this (which sort of begs the question, what is said person ministering?).

This is a fairly common presupposition amongst many people, I think: God is everywhere. But if God is everywhere, then God is no where. But for the orthodox Christian God is somewhere, somewhere in particular. Namely, God is in Christ. What does God look like? Jesus. Where is God? In Jesus.

It is precisely this loss of particularity that seems to characterize (generally speaking, of course) liberal fashions of Christianity. Oliver O’Donovan elaborates:

“The inner shrine of the liberal gospel was its attitude of respectful attentiveness to the world as it is. The term “incarnation”, used without an article, speaks of this embrace of the world. This is something different from the incarnation, the historical birth of Jesus the Son of God from Mary, which is now reconstructed as a paradigm or model for a conjunction of the human and divine to be effected in all times and places. The incarnation of the Word takes place continually,” (O’Donovan, Church in Crisis: The Gay Controversy and the Anglican Communion, 8).

We see evident here a loss of particularity. To speak of God’s self-revelation is not necessarily to speak of the Virgin Birth or the person of Jesus of Nazareth but it is rather to speak of an ongoing process of embracing and knowing the world as it is. It is to make a positive conjunction of God and the world. However, there are two reasons why the orthodox Christian must reject this claim one eschatological and one ontological. For the orthodox Christian there is an eschatological frontier between this world and the next as well as an ontological frontier between the Creator and the creature. In the liberal paradigm, these frontiers are collapsed so that the world as it is is the world as it ought to be and so that the distinction between Creator and creature all but evaporates. O’Donovan continues:

“This world being the sanctuary of God’s full self-disclosure, talk of a reign of God can only be talk of this world projected to its logical term. The present harbors no ultimate antithesis; it faces no final judgment. God’s worldly self-disclosure may be seen as the dynamic of world history, as in the confident progressivism of an earlier liberalism…But one way or the other the theological liberal looks to “see the hand of the Lord in the land of the living” (Ps 27:13), and knows that when seen it will be stretched out in blessing, not in judgment,” (O’Donovan, 8-9).

If God is everywhere then God is no where and the world is going no where for it has already arrived.

God is not everywhere.

God is in Christ Jesus who will come again to judge the living and the dead.

A Litany of Peace.

 

Let us pray for all who suffer as a result of conflict,

and ask that God may give us peace:

 

for the service men and women who have died in the violence of war,

each one remembered by and known to God;

 

May God give peace

God give peace

 

for those who love them in death as in life,

offering the distress of our grief and the sadness of our loss;

 

May God give peace

God give peace

 

for all members of the armed forces who are in danger this day,

remembering family, friends and all who pray for their safe return;

 

May God give peace

God give peace

 

for civilian women, children and men whose lives are disfigured by war or terror,

calling to mind in penitence the anger and hatreds of humanity;

 

May God give peace

God give peace

 

for peace-makers and peace-keepers,

who seek to keep this world secure and free;

 

May God give peace

God give peace

 

for the Church of God who are gathered by the Suffering Servant,

may we lay down our lives and live in peace with one another and all of God’s good creation;

 

May God give peace

God give peace

for all who bear the burden and privilege of leadership,

political, military and religious;

asking for gifts of wisdom and resolve in the search for

reconciliation and peace.

 

May God give peace

God give peace

O God of truth and justice,

we hold before you those whose memory we cherish,

and those whose names we will never know.

Help us to lift our eyes above the torment of this broken world,

and grant us the grace to pray for those who wish us harm.

As we honour the past, may we put our faith in your future;

for you are the source of life and hope,

now and for ever. Amen.

 

*From the Church of England (with a few small tweaks).

 

John Calvin, commenting on Peter’s rebuke of the religious leaders in Acts 4:5-12 says:

“From his severe rebuke of their crimes we are to learn a rule of speech for the occasions when we have to deal with the open enemies of the truth. For we must beware of two faults in this connexion. The first is that we do not appear to flatter by keeping silence or turning a blind eye, for silence by which the truth should be betrayed would be disloyal. The second is that we are not puffed up with impudence or undue indignation, as men’s tempers are liable to break out in the heat of contention. Let us therefore show gravity, yet not more than is reasonable. Let us rebuke freely, and yet stop short of the passion of abuse. We see how Peter stayed within these limits. For at the beginning he addresses them in honourable terms, yet when he comes to the point at issue, he attacks them sharply, for such shameful wickedness as theirs could not be passed over in silence. Those who follow this example will have not Peter only, but also the Spirit of God as their guide,” (Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries. The Acts of the Apostles vl.1, 117).

The church is the community of the Spirit and, as such, the Body of Christ. This means that the risen, living, and ruling Christ has aligned himself with this community in a particular way or, rather, that he has aligned this community with himself in a particular way by virtue of his promise. However, it is important to remember that for all of the continuity and unity between Christ and his church there is at least as much discontinuity and freedom. The risen Christ and the Spirit are not bound to the Christian community. Oft it has been said, it is truer that the ministry of Christ has a church than the church has the ministry of Christ. Put another way, we are more perfect in Christ than he is in us. In light of this, one of the things which must mark the church is continual repentance and reform. We have not arrived, we are simply bearers of the first-fruit of the Spirit for the good of the world. The church, like the world, is sinful and in need of rescue.

So then, to the untruth in the world, let us show gravity, yet not more than is reasonable. And, to the untruth in ourselves, may we do the same.

The following is a short five-minute homily I preached during morning prayer in the Wycliffe College chapel on Tuesday, March 13, 2012. The New Testament reading, from which I preached, was 1 Corinthians 7:32-40.

Funny side-note. Prior to preaching at 8:30am I had not eaten anything nor had I drank anything. Further, when I got up to preach in what was a very warm chapel I was wearing a heavy knit sweater. As I preached, I became very hot and began to feel light-headed, dizzy, and yes even nauseous. I figured I had three options: I could try to tough it out but then I would risk passing out in the middle of my short sermon. On the other hand, I could make a dash for the open door at the side of the chapel where I would no doubt vomit. Those two options would have proven rather embarrassing (and gross) so I opted for the third option and excused myself as I stopped preaching to take off my sweater. Crisis averted.

____________________

It makes all the difference in the world how one regards the end of the world. By “end” I do not mean a temporal point beyond which we cannot venture but rather the goal, the purpose, the telos of the world. Talking about the end of the world may seem like an odd way to begin a short homily on a portion of Scripture addressed to virgins. Yet this is precisely the context in which we are to hear Paul’s seemingly odd relational advice. If the Apostle had a “Dear Paul,” column in the local paper his advice to a young engaged couple may have gone something like this: “Dear Young-and-in-love: Marriage? The time is near, the world as we know it is passing away! Perhaps there are other things you may want to consider such as, I don’t know, concerning yourself with the affairs of the Lord in what little time you have left. Plus, marriage will bring you great distress so, you’re welcome.”

Of course, Paul isn’t writing a general treatise on marriage here and given his expectations his opinion on the matter makes more sense. Paul’s advice is conditioned by his belief that the day of the Lord is immanent. In the few verses prior to this mornings reading Paul says that “the appointed time has grown short,” (7:29a) and that “the present form of this world is passing away,” (7:31b). Later on Paul will refer to himself and the recipients of his letter as “us, on whom the ends of the ages have come,” (10:11). Indeed, nothing less than this has happened in the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus. In Jesus, the ends of the ages have come upon us. The old age, ruled as it was by sin and death has passed away and the new age, the fullness of God’s reign in Christ, has come. The tension, of course, is that while this new reality has indeed altered the present world it has not yet arrived in all of it’s glory and splendor. In the present we have a foretaste, a downpayment. But, when Christ returns (any moment now, for Paul) he will once and for all judge evil and wickedness and set the world aright.

Thus, Paul’s powerful apocalyptic expectation shaped his advice to the young virgins, that they remain single. Because, for Paul, the time is short ordinary temporal matters dwindle in significance or rather they “assume the significance that is properly theirs in the light of God’s eschatological judgment”[1]. Whether married, single, or engaged Christians ought to live as people who know that all these things are made sense of and find their fulfillment in Christ. Since the future is impinging upon the present Paul simply thought it illogical to undertake such long-term commitments as marriage.

However, Paul was also concerned that marriage presents many distractions that hinder service to the Lord. At best, marriage will produce divided interests as the husband considers how to please his wife (and rightly so!). For Paul, the potential danger of marriage is that it will hinder the Christian’s singleminded devotion to the mission of the church. Paul thinks it urgent that we be about the affairs of the Lord, proclaiming the gospel in the short time that remains, and singleness simply frees up time, attention, and energy to do this crucial work.

Alright, so Paul’s eschatological expectations were off a bit (two millennia or so and counting). What now? We along with Paul are indeed those upon whom the ends of the ages have come. In Christ, we are re-socialized into a pattern shaped by the gospel and illuminated by our eschatological setting between the cross and the final day of the Lord. As Christians our stories are caught up into the story God is telling and has told, the story which culminates in Christ Jesus who is coming again soon to judge the world and subject all things to the Father, “so that God may be all in all,” (15:28). Whether married or single, this story makes sense of our lives and reveals that we are a people on a journey.

Our society has lost good reasons for getting married and having children. We appear even more-so to have lost good reasons for staying single. “Ultimately,” says Stanley Hauerwas, “for the believer there is only one good reason to get married or to stay single, namely, that this has something to do with our discipleship”[2]. In light of Christ’s return marriage and singleness help to cultivate those virtues needed to keep us on the journey. So then, let us not be anxious but instead pursue wholehearted service of the Lord who has authority over our lives be we married or single. Amen.

Footnotes:

[1] Richard Hayes, Interpretation: First Corinthians (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1997), 127.

[2] Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon, Resident Aliens (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1989), 66.